"The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley."
The closet was dark and musty, the dust tickling her nostrils. Katniss had to squeeze her nose shut to stifle a sneeze, lest she alert anybody to her presence. God, when was the last time anybody had cleaned up in here? She knew Mr. Mellark was a single dad who had three kids to raise and a bakery to run, but how much time did a quick dusting require, really?
She huffed quietly, trying to clear her nose of any pesky air particles, but she froze when she heard heavy footsteps on the stairs. Holding her breath, she tried to follow the path of the steps; they were getting closer, moving down the hallway.
"Where did you say it was?" Peeta's voice boomed from the hallway, and Katniss heard his father's muffled response, though it was too quiet to decipher. When a large body blocked the light filtering through the small crack in the door, she knew he'd been directed to the right place. Her entire body tensed as she readied herself for the attack.
The closet door swung open then, and she launched herself through the opening immediately. Her palm connected with his chest. "Tag! You're it!" she crowed triumphantly.
Peeta yelped in shock, stumbling backward. The look of terror on his face sent her into a fit of hysterics, and she doubled over from the force of her laughter. When she looked back up at him, even through her tears, she could make out the scowl on his face.
"Fuck, Katniss!" he cried; his father's admonishment was immediate, and this time Katniss could hear it.
"Watch your language!" he yelled up the stairs, though amusement laced his voice.
Katniss laughed harder, and Peeta glowered at her. "He was in on it, wasn't he?" he asked drily, and she nodded, swiping at her tears. "I should have known; why the hell would he need granddad's old cane?"
She shrugged, resting her hands on her hips. "Your dad loves me. You know he'd do anything for me."
He rolled his eyes. "You play dirty, you know that, right?"
She scoffed. "Right, and who was the one who hid in the trunk of my car last time just to tag me?" she reminded him, and he smirked as he recalled. She and Peeta had been playing a neverending game of tag that had started when they were in elementary school. They'd been friends since they were 5, after she'd shoved another kid for making fun of Peeta for the note his father had left in his lunch box. One day in third grade, recess had ended before she'd had the chance to tag anybody. And she hated losing. Greatly. So the next time she'd seen Peeta, on their walk home after school, she had slapped him on the back and taken off running. Eight years later, and they were still playing the game. It was just the two of them, which made the game a little tricky, but they had long ago established one ground rule to follow: no tag-backs for at least a day. Other than that, anything was fair game. The two of them went to great lengths just to tag each other—sometimes, they languished for days or weeks at a time with no attempt on either side. She'd even fallen asleep in the bushes outside his house one night when she was hiding, not realizing he'd gone to a friend's house after wrestling practice; she'd woken the next morning when he'd nudged her awake with his shoe.
She'd tagged him, anyway.
"Well, that'll teach you to give me an extra key to your car, won't it?" Peeta teased.
"Yeah, you can give that back to me anytime now," she huffed, but when she realized he was advancing toward her, her eyes widened. "What are you—you know you can't tag me back!" she warned, stepping back into the closet.
"I know," he agreed, then he grinned wickedly. "But there's nothing that says I can't tickle you." He lunged at her then, his hands finding purchase on her sides. She squealed, his hold on her keeping her from falling backward, but she squirmed wildly against him as his fingers poked and prodded her stomach.
"No, stop!" she gasped, shrieking with laughter when he moved his hands up to her armpits. "Peeta, please, you know I hate being tickled!"
"I know," he laughed, and he grunted when she wriggled against him, her hands trying to push his arms away. "Why do you think I do it?"
She screamed something incoherent, tears of mirth streaming down her cheeks. She tried to tickle him back, but he was mostly impervious to her attacks. Finally, she kicked her legs out in a last-ditch attempt to stop him. Her boot connected with a box, knocking it over and spilling its contents out. Peeta stopped suddenly, though his hands still held her firmly around her waist.
"Well, shit. Look what you did," he mused. She was panting heavily, and she shot him a nasty glare, shoving him backward.
"It was your fault," she snapped, and they both knelt down to pick up the stuff she had knocked over.
"Everything okay up there?" Mr. Mellark called up the stairs.
"We're fine, dad," Peeta yelled back. "Katniss is just making a mess, like always."
She scowled at him, and he just grinned. "Am not!" she yelled. She scooped up the papers and photographs scattered across the floor. The photos looked old, yellowed by age. Curiously, she dumped some papers in the box and grabbed a handful of pictures to look through while Peeta continued cleaning up the rest. "Have you seen these?" she asked him, and he hummed in response.
"I don't know—probably. What are they?" he asked absently. Katniss flipped through the photos; they looked like they were pictures of Mr. Mellark and his friends in high school. She snorted in amusement as she took in the mullets, the mustaches, the large-framed glasses, and—she made a face—the really short shorts. That was more of Peeta's dad than she had ever wanted to see.
"Looks like photos of your dad when he was a teenager," she answered, tilting her head to squint at a photograph of Mr. Mellark posing with an old Cadillac.
"I'm sure I've seen some of them," Peeta replied dismissively. She shrugged and moved to the next photo; her gasp startled Peeta, and he sat up straight. "What?"
"Oh, my god—I think this is my mom!" she exclaimed, staring wide-eyed at the photo. It was a prom picture: Mr. Mellark in a blue velvet suit, hand-in-hand under an arch with a young blonde woman in a pink floor-length gown and a corsage on her wrist. Her hair was feathered, her bangs large and wispy, but Katniss was certain it was her mother. She bore a strong resemblance to her sister Prim in this photo.
"No way, let me see," he said, snatching the photo from her hand. He narrowed his eyes at the photograph, bringing it close to his face. Then his eyebrows shot up, and he looked back at her. "Dude, that's totally your mom! Wow, she was hot." She frowned at him, but he ignored her glare. "So our parents went to prom together?"
She was already shaking her head. "No way. This has to be Photoshopped."
He shot her a funny look. "They didn't have Photoshop in the '80s, Katniss."
She scowled at him. "I didn't mean it was Photoshopped then—never mind," she grumbled, looking back at the photos in her hand. She flipped through the rest to see if there were more; sure enough, she came across photos of them lying next to each other on a beach, one of her mother in between Mr. Mellark's legs while he held her from behind. "Peeta...there's more," she said, handing them to him. He stared at the photos, baffled.
"Wait, so...my dad...and your mom...dated in high school," he said slowly, and when his gaze met hers, she made a face.
"I can't believe they never told us!"
Shaking his head, Peeta dumped the photographs back into the box. "Bizarre. I wonder if my mom knows."
Katniss rolled her eyes. "Whatever, not like she'd care," she griped. His mother was a bitch. His parents had divorced when he was in middle school, and his mother had split immediately, leaving behind three sons for Mr. Mellark to raise alone. She was in touch infrequently, around the holidays and birthdays, if she remembered, but Peeta hadn't seen her for a couple years now. He acted mostly unbothered by his mother's abandonment, but she knew it hurt him deep down. Just like her father's death still affected her, five years later. "I wonder if my dad knew..."
Peeta raised an eyebrow. "Well, these photos are from high school. Didn't your parents meet not long after they graduated?"
"Yeah..." She pursed her mouth as she contemplated the situation. "Weird. I wonder why they didn't tell us..." Then her eyes widened. "Dude, what if your dad and my mom had gotten married? We could have been brother and sister."
He chuckled. "Yeah, I don't think genetics work like that, Katniss. If they had, neither of us would exist, period."
She scowled, shoving on his arm. He fell back on the floor, and she crawled out of the closet. "I know that, asshole. That's not what I meant." Well, it was kind of what she meant, but now he'd made her feel stupid. A thought struck her then, and she gasped, flopping down on her ass to look at him. "Oh, my god—what if they got married now? We could be siblings!"
He looked confused. "What are you talking about, exactly?"
She jumped to her feet, helping him up with her. "Well, my mom's been pretty lonely since my dad died, and your dad hasn't dated anybody since your mom left. What if they reconnected now? What if we helped them reignite the flame? I mean, we're practically brother and sister already; we could just make it official."
Peeta narrowed his eyes at her suspiciously, dropping her hand. "What are you planning?"
She grinned slowly, her cheeks already aching from the effort. "Peeta, I think it's time for Operation: Reunite the High School Sweethearts."
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